News / Africa

US Sends Former Envoy to Sudan to Push North-South Negotiations

Michael Onyiego

With concerns rising over Sudan's readiness for a January referendum on secession, the United States has dispatched retired Ambassador Princeton Lyman to mediate negotiations between the north and south before the critical vote.

At a press briefing in Washington Wednesday, State Department acting deputy spokesperson Mark Toner announced that Ambassador Lyman would lead a team to Khartoum to assist in negotiations regarding the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, on which the referendum is based.

"We are pleased to announce that retired United States Ambassador Princeton Lyman will serve as a part of an expanded United States negotiating team being dispatched to Sudan," he said. "Ambassador Lyman and his team will augment and complement the efforts of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum and the U.S. Consulate General in Juba as our diplomatic mission to Sudan assists in the final elements of implementing Sudan's North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement."

Ambassador Lyman, who has previously served in South Africa and Nigeria, will join U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration as part of a concerted U.S. effort to resolve potential obstacles to the referendum on January 9 of next year. Lyman is scheduled to meet over the next week with representatives from the ruling National Congress Party as well as the Southern People's Liberation Movement, the dominant party in the South.

The enhanced U.S. negotiating team will assist the stagnating talks regarding the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The agreement, signed in January 2005, ended more than 20 years of war between the government in Khartoum and the Southern People's Liberation Movement. Provisions of the document required both parties to push for national unity by addressing contentious issues such as north-south border demarcation, resource allocation and oil-revenue sharing.

But southern leaders feel Khartoum has not held up its end of the agreement. Many analysts now expect the final step of the peace agreement, a referendum on southern independence, to split the country in two.

The expected southern secession has only raised the stakes of the negotiations. Much of Sudan's oilfields lie in the south, but a large portion of the country's reserves lie in the region of Abyei, which straddles the north-south border. The region, though traditionally part of the northern Sudan, has also been claimed by the South, and has been a sticking point in recent talks.

The other critical issue is the referendum itself. Disagreements over the makeup and leadership of the commission tasked with administering the vote have brought referendum preparations to a halt in recent months. While some issues have been resolved, the commission is now faced with registering millions of voters, many of whom are living in refugee camps across the region, just a few months before the vote. Observers such as the International Crisis Group warn that if these issues are not clarified before the referendum, it could spark a return to civil war.  

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